ith an excellent seal, superior comfort, minimal fogging, simple adjustments, and minimal visual distortion, these classic yet thoroughly modern goggles are tough to beat.
Unveiled in 2010, Aqua Sphere’s Kayenne goggles come in both adult and child sizes. We were impressed with the Kayenne’s durable frame, proprietary silicone eyecup, on-the-fly adjustable strap, and remarkably scratchproof and fog-resistant lens. Perfect for competition, an hour of lap swimming, or a week in the sand and sun of the Caribbean, the Kayenne represents a technical step up from competing models.
Speedo MDR 2.4 Goggle
If our top pick is sold out or you don’t like a curved lens, these goggles are a great backup pick for most adults.
If our top picks are sold out, the eyecups on the Speedo MDR 2.4 Goggle fit a wide range of faces—even my 8-year-old son’s—and this model ranked among the most comfortable of all the goggles we tested. Although the MDR 2.4 is built for adults, we found that most adults and kids loved it. The flat, angular lenses allow for a panoramic view, and the lenses are also set slightly farther away from the eyes, making this pair a good choice for long-eyelashed folks, or for swimmers who have issues with visibility distortion and blurriness when wearing goggles with curved lenses.
Aqua Sphere Moby Kid
If our top pick is sold out, look to this tough pair of kids goggles as a comfortable, inexpensive, and durable choice.
The Aqua Sphere Moby Kid features a super-soft silicone frame and eyecups; a flat, distortion-free, fog and scratch-resistant lens; and wide, easily adjustable straps that don’t tangle hair but spread wide in the back to help the goggles stay in place. The Moby Kid also seals tightly on a variety of small faces, especially on very young swimmers, and we found that the pair remained comfortable during even our longest forays in the pool.
Speedo Hydrospex Classic Goggle
These no-frills goggles are better defined by what they don’t have—and that’s a good thing.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $15.
The Speedo Hydrospex goggles come in adult and child versions. They aren’t as easy to adjust as some of our other picks, and they don’t offer the panoramic field of vision of their spendier brethren. But if you’re looking to swim only occasionally, or if you simply need a good, no-frills pair of goggles, the Hydrospex is a reliable, comfortable, fog-free option that won’t break the bank. The flexible nose bridge works on a variety of face types, while the eyeglass-quality Lexan lens remains clear and scratch resistant and prevents fogging like a champ.
Why you should trust us
This guide is the result of around 13 hours of online research, about 20 pool hours spent sifting through and weeding out 33 pairs of goggles, and more than 10 miles of solo swimming in lap pools and amidst the waves of Folly Beach, South Carolina. It also includes the collective impressions of three South Carolina pool-owning families and their kids. And it takes into account thoughts from my wife, my brother, my sister, and five kids (ages 4 to 12) after a weeklong trip to the Dominican Republic in which we wore the top 10 sets of test goggles almost nonstop during daylight hours.
I spoke with International Swimming Hall of Fame president Bruce Wigo—who started swimming competitively in 1957 and has been swimming pretty much every day since—about the modern swim goggle and what makes a good one. After determining our favorites, I grilled Speedo design engineer Nate Tracy about the goggles he designs. I also spoke with Mirko Bosio and Todd Mitchell, Aqua Sphere’s research and development manager and swim business manager, respectively, about fit, technology, lens construction, visual distortion, anti-fog technology, and the care and feeding of a pair of goggles.
As for me, I’ve been covering watery goods for The Wirecutter since 2015, writing about surfboards, wetsuits, water guns, and all manner of beach gear. My writing has appeared in Outside, Men’s Journal, and Garden & Gun magazines. I’m also the author of Ghost Wave and a co-author on Surfing: 1778–Today, and I’m working on an ocean-handbook project forthcoming from Chronicle Books in 2018. My reporting on topics ranging from national news to science and travel also appears frequently in The New York Times (parent company of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome).
I live on the water in Charleston, South Carolina, and I have been a fairly serious recreational pool and ocean swimmer since my days at the University of Georgia back in the late 1980s. I’m a dad to a pair of kids, who are 8 and 12 at the time of this writing and have been swimming unassisted with and without goggles since they were 2. And two of their best friends, who helped with our tests, are budding young competitive swimmers—the younger having just won a state championship in the backstroke in the 7-and-under division. Their parents are goggle connoisseurs.
Who should get this
This guide is for recreational swimmers who want to extend the time they can spend in the water—and by that, we mean kids and grown-ups who plan to frolic in the ocean or pool this summer, or those who swim laps for fun or fitness. If you’ll be swimming a lot, a comfortable, quality pair of goggles is simply the most important piece of gear you can buy.
As a mainstream product, swim goggles actually have a startlingly short history. According to an article available on the website of the International Swimming Hall of Fame (PDF), 14th-century Persian pearl divers used primitive swim goggles made of highly polished pieces from tortoise shells. Polynesians likely used the air pockets in rings of bamboo as goggles long before that, too. But even as recently as 1972, champion swimmer Mark Spitz didn’t wear goggles while swimming to victory and seven gold medals in the Olympics. And he wasn’t alone: The great swimmers of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s usually swam without goggles, too.
“It’s hard to believe that [Spitz] only wore goggles for practice at that time,” International Swimming Hall of Fame president Bruce Wigo said in an interview. “Go back and look at films even to the early ’80s, and competitors weren’t wearing goggles. I swam my entire career without them, but today I wouldn’t even go in the water without them. Goggles completely transformed swimming. Prior to the development of modern goggles, the great swimmers of the ’40s, ’50s, and even ’60s could only swim an hour and a half a day due to chlorine and salt irritation. With goggles, workouts went from 3,000 meters a day to 20,000.”
Today, goggles make it far easier to see underwater. Fish can see clearly underwater because their eyes have evolved to allow for advanced in-water focal length. We humans, on the other hand, need a layer of air between our eyes and the water in order to focus. Goggle lenses and dive masks do exactly this—and in fact, during our trip to the Dominican Republic, we found that our kids grabbed goggles first. Goggles can’t replace a mask, snorkel, and fins in a “real” snorkel outing, of course, and no pair of swim goggles is suitable for wearing much deeper than 6 feet, because they’re not built to handle the same level of pressure as snorkel and scuba masks. But for shallow swimming above tropical reefs, goggles are “just easier than having to put all that stuff on,” my son said.
Goggles also make disgustingly scientific sense: Perhaps you’ve noticed through the years that when you swim in a chlorinated pool, your eyes sting. Chlorine is added to pool water as a disinfectant, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that sting is not a result of the chlorine itself. Rather, it’s the chemical binding of the chlorine to the body waste of swimmers—most specifically, sweat and urine. When the ammonia and other human waste chemicals combine with chlorine, they form “disinfection by-products,” chemical compounds including dichloramine and trichloramine, which not only cause red eyes but also can irritate the respiratory system (and make the pool smell “chlorine-y”). The solution—at least for your eyes—is to wear goggles.
If you’re a competitive swimmer, you probably already have a pair of goggles you love (likely the Speedo Vanquisher or something similarly spare and hydrodynamic), so we didn’t look at competition-grade goggles for this guide. Though the sleek, low-profile Aqua Sphere Kayenne in particular would make for an excellent set of competitive goggles—particularly for open-water swimmers—our key criteria for this guide included comfort, ease of use, visibility, seal, and affordability. The tenth of a second you might gain in the 400-meter freestyle from a super-sleek set of goggles simply didn’t fit into our equation. We also didn’t cover prescription goggles in this guide. (If you are looking for a pair, we recommend a visit to SwimOutlet.com or GogglesNMore.)
We did consider kids goggles for this guide, often finding that our favorite goggles came in multiple sizes. In our tests, our top picks often ranked high for both the kids and the adults, illustrating that the point at which a kid transitions to a junior or adult pair of goggles can be a little fuzzy—in many cases we found that an adult small or medium fit our 8-year-old just fine (the adult Kayenne was his absolute favorite goggle style in the bunch). In general, though, kids younger than 6 years should certainly use children’s goggles. Kids 6 to 14 should consider a “junior”-size set of goggles.
Why buy goggles for a little kid who can’t swim yet? My wife and I have found over the years that wearing a well-fitted pair of goggles can reduce a kid’s fear of the water before they even learn to swim (they tend to experience less fear around getting their faces wet, and they avoid the feeling of burning chlorine water in their eyes, too). And once they do learn to swim, goggles will ensure that they don’t finish a day at the pool looking like their eyeballs have been seared by shark laser beams.
All of this is to say that whether you’re in search of a solid set of goggles for lap swimming, a game of Marco Polo, or a trip to a tropical port, our picks for kids and adults will serve you well.
How we picked
A search for “swim goggles” on Amazon or SwimOutlet.com reveals a bewildering variety of choices. At the time of this writing, Amazon returned more than 8,100 hits for swim goggles, while SwimOutlet.com generated 498. During our research, we spent around five hours poring over the top-rated options at SwimOutlet.com and in Triathlete Magazine. We spent another eight hours looking at the best-reviewed models on Amazon. Then, we relied on personal and expert knowledge to narrow down the list of what we needed to test.
Goggles fall into three categories. The first, in-eye-socket goggles, are so named because they feature a small lens cup that sits inside your eye socket when you have them strapped to your face. People most often use this type for competition. The goggles fit tightly and can become quite uncomfortable, producing red rings on your face (“raccoon eyes”) as they place excessive pressure on your eye sockets. We tested goggles of this type, and while we didn’t love any of them, we found that they were far more comfortable than those that might have been available a couple of decades ago.
Generally speaking, the second category, fitness and recreation goggles, features wider, pressure-dispersing straps, very soft silicone eyepieces, and oversized lenses that provide a wider field of vision. Because the compressional force of these goggles is spread over a wider area, they tend to avoid “raccoon eyes,” and you can wear these goggles comfortably for a long time. Many of our picks—and most of the models we tested—fall into this category.
The final goggle segment includes mask-style goggles. These comprise a newer, smaller category that started with Aqua Sphere’s Seal mask back in 1998. These goggles most closely resemble snorkel and scuba goggles, but without a sealing portion that covers the nose. They offer a wide fit around the face rather than the eyes and come with a panoramic single- or dual-lens system. Mask-style goggles aren’t terribly hydrodynamic, but they can be a good choice for folks who feel claustrophobic in smaller goggles, or those who want a nice, wide field of vision for open-ocean swimming. Very young kids might appreciate the more wide-open feel of mask goggles, too, because of the easy on-off factor. We cover a few good ones in our Competition section. We also considered novel add-on technologies—extra straps like the Frogglez design, plus nose plugs, earplugs, and more.
During our research, we learned that most goggle lenses come in different colors and tints for different swimming setups. For example, clear and light-blue lenses are the best for morning and indoor swimming. Blue lenses also allow for better visibility in the open water. Gray-tinted lenses, on the other hand, are best for sunny, outdoor conditions. Yellow, orange, and amber-tinted goggles are good for low-light conditions.
A good pair of goggles should be fog-free—and it shouldn’t distort the world around you in any way.
In the end, we weeded our testing list down to 15 goggle models for kids and 18 for adults. A good pair of goggles should have soft gaskets and an easily adjustable strap that splits at the back of the head to hold it in place. (Most good straps do this.) It should seal without the strap putting undue pressure on the back of the head, the eyes, or the nose bridge. It should also be durable, standing up to waves, sand, sunscreen, and 6-foot depths. And a good pair of goggles should be fog-free—and it shouldn’t distort the world around you in any way.
How we tested
First, we checked our orders right out of the box to confirm that they’d arrived defect-free with the promised accessories. We also read the instructions, many of which were badly translated and unclear. Aegend’s instructions, for example, had the following in the “To Prevent Fogging” section: “Anti fog coating will wear off over time. Use Anti-fog Solution can help the goggles be fog-free effectively. Saliva, toothpaste and baby shampoo gently applied to lenses can all be used as temporary measures but are not recommended for long-term solution.” Then, in the very next section it says: “Please do not wash it by organic cleaning liquid or it will reduce the using effect.” Huh?
We were cognizant of the reviews of certain goggles where customers complained of snapped straps, so we stretched, distended, and distorted our goggles to what we reckoned were points of near failure. Goggles from Aqua Sphere, Cressi, and Speedo feature ratcheting systems with buttons and pull switches for on-the-fly adjustments, and in our tests all of those ratchet systems worked as advertised, with no gear stripping (and we found them to be, frankly, game changers).
Next, we performed two weed-out tests for the kids goggles and then the adult goggles, giving numerical scores of one to five to each pair for the following criteria: ease of on/off, overall comfort, adjustability, hair pullage, staying in place, fogging, distortion, and seal. Several pairs of goggles dropped off the list right away.